Author Topic: Richmond shows the way for Pies, Dees, Dons after drought-breaking flag (H-Sun)  (Read 251 times)

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Richmond shows the way for Collingwood, Melbourne, Essendon after drought-breaking flag

Herald Sun
December 24, 2017

ON the field they hunted ravenously.

The hallmark of the Tigers’ premiership win aside from Dustin Martin’s domination was the searing tackle pressure.

The swarming forwards who suffocated the opposition.

In September we still doubted Richmond, but Damien Hardwick’s men stepped up when the stakes were at their highest, ending a 37-year premiership drought.

It was a flag, seemingly from nowhere, just like the Western Bulldogs a year earlier.

But the truth of this incredible flag was Richmond’s behind-the-scenes connection.

Their shared vulnerability and mercy.

When captain Trent Cotchin opened his heart to his peers and spoke about his insecurities as player and as a captain, it set off a chain reaction which took the footy club all the way.

If anything, it was this bond which stitched together the yellow and black triumph as footy showed off the power of its spiritual side.

When the Richmond overhaul began at the end of last year, coach Damien Hardwick conceived the HHH meetings (dubbed Hero, Hardship or Highlight) that helped forge iron-like bonds and a deep understanding among a list of players which had shown promise on a steady climb from a 2008-09 rebuild, but hit a wall in 2016.

Simply, players spoke about something important to them together in the Punt Rd theatrette. Bachar Houli, for example, explained the deep love he felt for his wife when she gave birth.

They bared their souls, they laughed and they cried together. They jelled.

The playing style was simpler and focused on superb intercepting in defence, more streamlined ball use and that speed and tackle pressure all over the ground.

It was a smaller, quicker set-up, and even when the doubters remained on the eve of finals, the Tigers excelled, overcoming Adelaide, which had formed one of the most potent attacking systems over the past decade, in the Grand Final.

Adelaide had one look early in the second quarter, but a desperate Alex Rance spoil foiled Taylor Walker and the rebound finished with a Jack Riewoldt goal as Richmond skated away, too easily in the end.

The question for the off-season for everyone else is, can they conjure similar magic and synergy?

If every year spits out a couple of key learnings for the opposition, the Richmond connection and smaller forward tackle pressure are it.

And the cup is there for the taking.

The past two years’ fairytales have taught us flags may not be as far as away as previously imagined. Richmond finished 13th in 2016 and hadn’t won a final for 16 years before this September.

Ground can be made up, and surrendered, seemingly more quickly than ever before in the premiership race.

Take a look at Essendon. This was a club on its knees and forced to scour the state leagues and retirement ranks for top-up players a few years ago.

Yet in Round 1, this club launched into a new era by stunning Hawthorn. The victory brought the thousands of the Bomber army to their feet and set the tone for Essendon’s finals finish.

The wounds from the past were healed that night at the MCG as Joe Daniher and Anthony McDonald-Tipungwuti became poster boys for the red and black revival.

Three more quality additions at the trade period, including Jake Stringer, has Essendon poised to contend for a top-four spot in 2018.

But they weren’t the only big improver this year.

When Melbourne crushed Adelaide on its home deck with a nine-goal barrage from the 19-minute mark of the second term, we thought the Demons would finally break their 11-year finals absence.

At times this season, their tackling pressure around the ball was the best in the league. Clayton Oliver’s second season was one for the record books, Christian Petracca won games off his own boot and Jack Watts — in his final season in red and blue — swept aside his Queen’s Birthday nightmare debut to kick the match-winner from the boundary against Collingwood.

But Melbourne’s season could be split in two halves either side of four consecutive six-day breaks in the mid part of the season.

That’s when the ill-discipline and injuries set in and it missed on out on September action by 0.5 per cent, the smallest margin in AFL history.

The disappointment burned at Melbourne like the desert sun.

Collingwood was another club which looked deep into its soul in 2017.

Under the most intensive spotlight of the season, coach Nathan Buckley said he felt like jumping in his car as Hawthorn climbed to a 34-point lead on the back of a Ben McEvoy goal on the stroke of half-time.

Scott Pendlebury dragged Collingwood to a miraculous comeback win - probably helping save his coach’s skin - but the captain admitted that the shadow over the coach’s future throughout the bulk of the season significantly impacted the players.

Collectively, they walked on AFL eggshells, unsure whether each loss would be the nail in the coffin for the coach.

It was the story of the year for the bulk of 2017.

But as Geoff Walsh performed an exhaustive review of almost 100 interviews, the Magpies lost only two games in the final seven rounds.

They would have beaten Adelaide if Mitch McGovern had not plucked one of the marks of the year on the final siren, sealing a draw.

Now the Magpies, like Richmond, are searching for the chemistry and on field harmony required to make finals for the first time in five years next season.

Darcy Moore moved into a key defensive post and Brayden Maynard joined the midfield brigade in the last round, as a prelude to next season.

Positioning was a week-to-week proposition for Harry Taylor at Geelong. And it felt like the Cats’ fortunes rested on the All-Australian defender’s ability to have an impact in attack each match.

Patrick Dangerfield provided one of the individual performances of the year in the Round 17 win over Hawthorn, nailing five goals with an injured leg.

It was the return of the old-fashioned full-forward, but scoring power remained an issue and the Cats have looked to Stewart Crameri to help find more avenues to goal in 2018.

Gary Ablett’s wish to return home to the Cattery was granted on the final day of the trade period, meaning Chris Scott will now have a midfield trio, including skipper Joel Selwood, which is as good as any.

St Kilda’s lack of midfield depth and inconsistency cost it in 2017 as too much was left to Seb Ross to shoulder in the engine room.

Western Bulldogs were also left wanting as the jubilation of a remarkable 2016 flag turned into a premiership hangover. The hunger and desperation from the season before had dissipated.

The two Sydney teams started the year as the heavyweights, but both missed the Grand Final. The Swans stumbled out of the blocks, yet somehow recovered, making finals from an 0-6 start for the first time in league history.

The Giants, too, misfired early and were hard hit by injury. The learning curve continues for a list we said at the start of the year was the most talented ever assembled. Daylight, we thought was second, but the gap has surely closed.

The other franchise team, Gold Coast, had another disastrous year that cost coach Rodney Eade his job. And unless Stuart Dew can reverse the trend early in 2018, superstar spearhead Tom Lynch could depart as well.

Carlton has patiently invested and built from defence. The Blues upset the Giants at Etihad in Round 12 to post the most the impressive win of Brendon Bolton’s two years in charge.

His gameplan was dubbed “the sponge” but scoring issues remain.

North Melbourne sought the two biggest signatures in the game but failed to secure either of Dustin Martin or Josh Kelly.

The Kangaroos’ ambition should be commended, and the 10-goal win over the Crows in Hobart in Round 7 was significant. But the rebuild is on.

As Richmond and the Dogs have showed, the turnaround can be quick.